How do we untie the lines that bind us? Family, jobs, homes, schools, pets, friends… our lives are built on the myriad of small connections and huge decisions that we have made over a lifetime.
Appealing though it is to dream of handing in your notice, locking up the house and sailing off into the sunset, the reality is that it can take a daunting amount of planning and organisation to disentangle our land-based routines.
There is no ‘right’ time to go – there are cruisers who have enjoyed bluewater adventuring with a newborn baby, others who’ve waited until their 70s and plenty of others who found their life circumstances changed dramatically but their sailing plans could be adapted to carry on.
We spoke to those who have made the move to liveaboard or long-haul cruising to find out why they chose to go when they did, and what lessons they’d pass on to anyone thinking of making the leap.
When Kathleen Casey-Kirschling was born at 0001hr on 1st January 1946 in Pennsylvania, she became the USA’s very first baby boomer, the first of the generation that would
redefine ‘retirement’. It’s no surprise that when she and her husband chose to retire they did so aboard a yacht (albeit a motoryacht, their Grand Banks 42). It was named First Boomer.
The post-war generation who were born between 1946-64, are now in their mid-fifties to early-70s, and statistically healthier, wealthier and more active than any previous generation, so in the best position to enjoy long-haul cruising.
For many third age cruisers their yacht is the reward for four decades of working at a successful career or business. Final salary pension schemes – and, in the UK, tax changes which allowed lump sums to be drawn from pension funds without penalty since 2015 – have enabled many to bolster their income to contend with the costs of a bluewater trip.
It is not entirely straightforward for those in their 50s and 60s: elderly parents, ‘boomerang’ children who’ve returned to the family home, and new grandchildren are often emotive pulls back to shore. The increased expense of travel and health insurance for over-65s can be an added complication.
But there are many who have made it work, and for whom retirement afloat signals the best years of their lives.
“They say that the time to reef is when you first think of it, but unless you have unlimited resources, casting off the lines is seldom that simple. For Terry and me, it started as an impossible dream, crashed on the rocks of various recessions and slowly morphed into a plan and then reality,” recalls Alan Ryall, who has been sailing with his wife, Terry, since 2013. Both are in their mid-60s.
Having owned boats for 25 years, the Ryalls bought their Island Packet 465, Seminole Wind, in 2011 with the specific aim of bluewater voyaging. After completing Yachtmaster, first aid and survival training, and a full year of shakedown cruising, they crossed the Atlantic in 2013.
The couple initially tried downsizing from working full-time to part-time, “so we could try and get the best of both worlds,” recalls Alan. “It failed miserably.”
“We hauled out in Antigua where I jumped straight on to a flight to Singapore in time to run a major conference. We were constantly finding a place to leave the boat and it was just frustrating. We came back once to find a major lightning strike had caused over $70,000 damage because work pressure meant she had been left in Florida in the storm season, fortunately with the permission of our insurers.”
A health scare made them reassess. “We took a knife to the lines and left work behind for good,” Alan explains. “Our house in London was sold and we bought a smaller apartment to rent, so we had no emotional attachment to it.”
Possessions were dealt with ruthlessly. “They fell into two categories: a small pile of must-keeps and a large pile of dispose of (give to family, charity shop or sell). I can’t even remember what we disposed of so we didn’t need it – it was a cathartic experience.”
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